Benjamin E. Mays, 83, president emeritus of Morehouse College in Atlanta and an educator for more than 50 years, urged the new University of the District of Columbia yesterday not to neglect its obligation to produce young, black scholars.
Mays, who spoke during the second day of UDC inaugural week activities, said that while UDC should not become an isolated "black" institution, it must place special emphasis on educating corps of black scholars and leaders sensitive to the needs and spirations of blacks.
"Black colleges must serve as the conscience of the nation," said Mays, who is president of the Atlanta Board of Education. "It was at Howard University, not Harvard or Yale or Columbia, where groundwork began to end school segregation. A group of students at A&T University (Greesbore, N.C.) sat in at a lunch counter for equal rights to public accommodations."
"The battle in housing, employment and other crucial areas still has not been won," Mays added. He said it is the role of black colleges to continue to train the leaders who will seek solutions to those problems in the future.
"Had Martin Luther King Jr. received his BA from Harvard instead of Morehouse, it is very unlikely that he would have gone on to become the great civil rights leader he was," Mays said.
Mays voiced a different view of the UDC's role from that of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Patricia Harris, who is a speech on Monday said it was vital that UDC be a teaching university. She said lofty scholarly pursuits should be left largely to other schools.
Both Mays and Harris said, however, that in the final analysis, the new university should seek a balance between scholarship and basic teaching.
Mays received a standing ovatim at the end of his speech when he said, "I've been on the battle line since the turn of the century. I've fought for justice for black people all my life and I will die fighting for black people."
Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.,) whose speech preceded Mays' said UDC can serve a vital function in providing urban planners and sociologists to tackle the array of urban problems that affect city residents.
"One of the major problems in almost every city is that of rehabilitation and displacement," Mitchell said. He said that as a result of displacement, families often are moved into other communities, causing overcrowding.